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Arielle’s Bat Mitzvah Project: a Bone Marrow Drive for Gift of Life

Mar 18, 2011 by Gift of Life News

When Arielle Tetro began planning for her bat mitzvah, she knew she wanted more than just a big party to celebrate this joyous occasion. And so, two weeks before she was called up to read from the Torah in synagogue, Arielle and her family sponsored a special “mitzvah project” (“mitzvah” being the Hebrew for both “commandment” and “good deed”): a bone marrow drive for the Gift of Life.

 Her choice was not entirely surprising: her father received a bone marrow transplant three years ago, which saved his life. So, in this blog post, I’d like to tell you a little of Arielle’s story and how she organized such an important, coming of age event.

 In Arielle’s community,  Jewish kids undertake a mitzvah project as part of their bar and bat mitzvah responsibilities.  One friend helped to raise money for a Jewish orphanage and foster care agency and Arielle helped her in this worthy cause.

 Arielle’s synagogue, Melrose B’Nai Israel Emanu-El in Cheltenham, PA., near Philadelphia, already had a tradition of performing service to the community in general and as part of bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. Synagogue members volunteer  monthly with the Jewish Relief Agency (JRA), which distributes food to needy seniors in the Philadelphia area.  Also, some of Arielle’s friends chose to complete their bar and bat mitzvah projects through JRA.

 That gave Arielle’s mom the idea of contacting the JRA to ask about using its warehouse facility for her daughter’s mitzvah project. The organization readily agreed. The location proved to be particularly advantageous, as close to 200 adults volunteer their time to help with the JRA’s activities on Sunday mornings – all of whom passed by Arielle’s sign up table and swabbing stations.

 All told, the 3-hour bone marrow drive added 29 new names to the Gift of Life registry.

 Arielle was moved by the amount of interest and caring she felt from the community. “I didn’t know beforehand that people would go out of their way to stop what they’re doing for a worthy cause,” Arielle says. “I can’t get over how generous some people are.”

 Putting on a bone marrow drive may sound daunting, especially for an almost 13-year-old, but for the Tetro family, Gift of Life was with them every step of the way. “They were phenomenal,” Arielle’s mom, Sheryl, says, giving special kudos to Gift of Life’s volunteer coordinator Susan Greenspan and Shayne Pilpel, our recruitment coordinator, who created the flyer that Arielle distributed to her school and via her synagogue’s newsletter.

 Arielle’s father, Avishay, suffered from a particularly aggressive form of leukemia. Within 9 months of diagnosis, he was in the blast crisis stage of the disease and was suffering from tumor fevers.  Death was imminent unless he received emergency chemotherapy followed almost immediately by a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, Avishay has siblings in Israel and his sister turned out to be a perfect match. Most patients are not so fortunate.  Statistics show that for 70% of cancer patients a donor is not found within the family, a reality that really hit home to the Tetro family “it was at that point that I knew I wanted to help people with leukemia and other cancers to survive,” Arielle says.

 Arielle also received financial contributions for Gift of Life in honor of her bat mitzvah from several members of her family and community including those who have passed the age limit of 60-years-old to get swabbed but still wanted to help.

 Will they do another bone marrow drive in the future? “Maybe,” Arielle hints. “But first we need some recovery time from this one!” says Mom.

 When I asked Arielle about her bat mitzvah experience, she said she was particularly moved when, at the end of the service, the congregation chants “Hazah hazak v’nithazek” – literally “Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!” What a fitting expression of our appreciation and gratitude to even the youngest supporters of the Gift of Life!

If you have a bar or bat mitzvah aged child and you’d like to find out more about how your family can sponsor its own “mitzvah project” for Gift of Life, drop me a line and I’ll be very happy to tell you more. Arielle put it best when she told me that the key is to “do something you think is a worthy cause and that, ideally, is related to your family. That will be what’s most meaningful to you; it will be what you remember.”